A life in two steps

National Post (National Edition) - - POST MOVIES - CHRIS KNIGHT Mr. Gaga opens March 31 in at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers theatre in Toronto and the In­ter­na­tional Vil­lage in Van­cou­ver, with other cities to fol­low.

Any doc­u­men­tary about chore­og­ra­phy has two hur­dles to clear: it must fo­cus nar­rowly enough on the world of dance to sat­isfy its core au­di­ence; but it also needs to be broad enough to pull in the av­er­age movie­goer.

Mr. Gaga, about the life and work of famed Is­raeli dancer and chore­og­ra­pher Ohad Na­harin, man­ages the first but strug­gles with the sec­ond. De­spite win­ning an au­di­ence award at the Sundance fes­ti­val, this doc may have a hard time con­nect­ing with those out­side its rar­efied world.

One prob­lem is that Na­harin’s in­cred­i­ble dances are shown only in brief clips. We get to see a lot of his work, but never to sink into any one per­for­mance piece. Com­pare that with Wim Wen­ders’ 3D mas­ter­piece Pina, or the more re­cent Fla­menco Fla­menco, which al­lowed view­ers to watch a dance from start to fin­ish.

The clips do pro­vide ev­i­dence of Na­harin’s imp­ish hu­mour, not al­ways on dis­play dur­ing re­hearsals. One per­for­mance fea­tures a man per­form­ing a jerky mo­tion that even­tu­ally turns out to be pol­ish­ing a ma­chine gun. In an­other, an au­di­ence mem­ber called up on stage to per­form turns out to have been planted there. (This sub­terfuge may also ex­plain why Na­harin de­scribes his early life and then re­cants on sev­eral key de­tails.)

His bi­og­ra­phy in­cludes early years spent on a kib­butz; work­ing as an en­ter­tainer in the army dur­ing the 1973 Arab-Is­raeli War; a spell in New York, dur­ing which he met and mar­ried Mari Ka­ji­wara; and his re­turn to Is­rael, where he clashed with gov­ern­ment cen­sors when they de­manded he use more mod­est cloth­ing for a per­for­mance cel­e­brat­ing the coun­try’s 50th an­niver­sary.

Along the way he even de­vel­oped his own dance style, called Gaga, with an em­pha­sis on per­sonal in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the mu­sic rather than for­mal tech­nique. (Per­haps not sur­pris­ingly, Na­harin didn’t be­gin for­mal train­ing him­self un­til the age of 22.) Direc­tor Tomer Hey­mann shows some star­tling ex­am­ples of the re­sults; I just wish we could see more of them, and in greater length. ∂∂½


Mr. Gaga tells the story of famed Is­raeli dancer and chore­og­ra­pher Ohad Na­harin.

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